‘…a sponge…searching… first of all a student and then always someone who took it further and bolder…He kept changing and exploring…challenging himself’.
Bernard Zuel. The Age. 12.01.2016.
I’m supposed to be working on unit plans for this years lessons. I have a year 9,10,11 and 12 Drama class this year, a homegroup, a poetry elective, a possible school production and involvement with a very important theatre project outside of school. These holidays are working ones. This morning however I have an urge to write outside of work.
I’d just come back from a glorious 1 and a half hour walk with my partner down Melbourne’s Merri Creek as a storm moved its way into the city when I heard the news that David Bowie had died. Like many, I didn’t believe it; then, the tears.
As a 35 year old woman I first encountered David Bowie in the film the Labyrinth. At the time I wanted to be Sarah so that such an unusually charismatic man could woo me at a ball while I donned a typically 80’s fashioned ballroom dress; but only a few years later as a teen, I wanted to be more like Bowie, no longer thought of by me as the Goblin King rather as an inspiring artist. I’m not going to do the incredible injustice of trying to article his greatness with my limited vocabulary, but rather talk about some of the things I learned from his approach to artistry and life and have been so reminded of in his passing.
Going to the music store in the early 90’s to buy some of his music saw me pouring through a series of CD books with wide eyes. With each CD saw a re-imagining of himself through style and song. I adored his ginger hair and pin striped suits as much as his glitter and lipstick. Quickly my hair saw a change of colors – purple, red, blue, black. I wore suits and ties, chinese tops and clogged heals … to school. I would never profess to have gone as far as Bowie (or some of my fellow students) ever did (I have too much fear in me) but he, like Cyndi Lauper who had first inspired me as a child in the 80’s, opened my eyes to being experimental with look, personality, sexuality, voice. Essentially his approach to life taught be that everything could be played with.
The years that followed saw me acting for television and working with a physical theater company; modeling for painters whom I so greatly admired, attached myself to them and their messy studios, feeling a small part of greatness as I looked upon their interpretations of my body. I taught drama on sets as a drama coach for television, for theater and in schools. I read, wrote poetry and articles for books and online journals. I continued to experiment with hair styles, colors and with clothes and finally got the nose ring and tattoo I’d so wanted. I traveled, mostly on my own, overseas. I shaved my head. I learned Butoh in Italy.
Lately I have been looking for this woman. The girl and woman who experimented with these, mostly external things. Who, fueled more often by the want to fiercely combat the aforementioned fear that was in me, always telling me I wasn’t good enough, that I would be judged, that ‘something’ would happen, that I shouldn’t rock the boat; at least tried different things.
That’s where people like Bowie, Cyndi and another favorite artist of mine, Bjork, really continue to get up in my face from time to time and show me what can be possible. That their individual voices were/ are heard, is a blessing. That their constant ‘changing, exploring…challenging’ of themselves and their artistry lead to new things. And that this kind of hard work can also be an incredible amount of fun.
I don’t experiment with my hair color anymore but what I do do is encourage my students to. Well, sort of. As a teacher I am telling my students to be curious constantly. To be adventurous in their education as much as their lives. To challenge me, themselves, the things we are working on… to give of themselves, to create something new from the individual self they are.
It should be a great time to do this. Companies more and more are looking for creativity, ingenuity and entrepreneurial skills. More than this we should be exploring outside of our working lives, our school lives; we should feel comfortable to challenge our ideas and beliefs, create new ones. We should take different routes to our daily working places, create new dishes, ask our partners to. Play with fashion, be a voice heard in staff meetings, at dinner parties and in forums greater than facebook. We should recognise the fact that we are all students of life as long as we are here and that this in turn means investigating, examining, experimenting and exploring with ALL our senses, ALWAYS. To be gentle with ourselves when we fuck up, when the experiment goes wrong and then… push.forward.
…create a new persona. A Ziggy Startdust. A Thin White Duke.
A day after I posted this, the wonder-full Brainpickings posted a Vanity Fair interview with David Bowie from 1998. Q: What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? A: Living in fear. SNAP.